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U.S., South Korea show off air power in message to North Korea after missile launches

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U.S., South Korea show off air power in message to North Korea after missile launches
The United States and South Korea flew 20 fighter planes on Tuesday as a show of force in response to North Korea's recent ballistic missile launches. Photo courtesy South Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff

SEOUL, June 7 (UPI) -- The United States and South Korea conducted a joint air power demonstration on Tuesday, Seoul said, flying 20 fighter planes in the allies' latest response to North Korea's ballistic missile launches last weekend.

The exercise consisted of four U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets and 16 South Korean combat aircraft, including F-15Ks, KF-16s and F-35A stealth fighters, flown in attack formation over the sea west of Korea.

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"The flight was conducted to overwhelmingly respond to the enemy threat," South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a message to reporters. "South Korea and the U.S. demonstrated their strong ability and will to strike quickly and accurately against any North Korean provocation."

One day earlier, the allies launched eight surface-to-surface missiles into the sea, matching the number of short-range ballistic missiles that North Korea fired on Sunday.

North Korean officials test fire a Hwasongpho-17 intercontinental ballistic missile on March 25. Since then, Pyongyang has test fired several more ICBMs, including this past weekend. File Photo by KCNA/UPI

Pyongyang's launch was its 18th round of weapons tests this year, and officials from Seoul and Washington have warned that the secretive regime is gearing up to conduct its first nuclear detonation since 2017.

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The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency echoed that concern this week, with Chairman Rafael Grossi telling a board meeting Monday that the nuclear watchdog has "observed indications" that North Korea is getting ready for a nuclear test.

Tuesday's air power demonstration came as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was in Seoul for a meeting with her South Korean counterpart, Cho Hyun-dong. Sherman said there would be a "swift and forceful response" to a North Korean nuclear test.

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"Any nuclear tests would be in complete violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions," Sherman told reporters, according to Yonhap.

"The entire world will respond in a strong and clear manner," she added. "We are prepared."

Washington has pushed to impose new U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea over its flurry of weapons tests this year, which have included multiple launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles. However, China and Russia vetoed a U.S.-led resolution late last month.

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